Call for Hams and Hackers: Welcome ICE/ISEE-3 Home


ISEE-3, one of America’s most dedicated space exploration vessels is on its way home. Unfortunately, when it gets here, no one will be talking to it. NASA decommissioned the equipment needed to communicate with the satellite nearly 15 years ago. [Emily Lakdawalla] at the planetary society has been following the long traveled probe for years. Her recent article on the topic includes the news that NASA essentially gave up the battle before it even started.

Originally named International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3), the spacecraft was launched atop a Delta rocket on August 12, 1978. Its mission was to study interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and solar wind. As part of this mission ISEE-3 became the first spacecraft to enter halo orbit. It did this by positioning itself at Lagrangian point L1, directly between the sun and the Earth. In 1982, scientists on earth were preparing for the 1986 flyby of Halley’s Comet. ISEE-3 was repurposed as a comet hunter, and renamed International Cometary Explorer (ICE). The craft flew back to Earth and entered lunar orbit, coming within 120km of the moon’s surface. It used this momentum to achieve a heliocentric orbit, on track for two comet encounters. ICE/ISEE-3 encountered Comet Giacobini-Zinner on September 11, 1985, collecting data and becoming the first spacecraft to fly through a comet’s plasma tail. While not considered part of the Halley Armada, ICE/ISEE-3 took measurements as it passed within 28 million km of Comet Halley’s nucleus. Since then, ICE/ISEE-3 has continued on its 355 day heliocentric orbit. It studied coronal mass ejections in the early 90′s, before being shut down in May of 1997. Follow us past the break to learn ICE/ISEE-3′s fate.

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Further Teardown of the Saturn V Flight Computer

Depotting LVDC Components

[Fran] has been working on tearing down and reverse engineering the Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer (LVDC). In her finale, she’s succeeded in depotting the legacy components while keeping them intact.

She accomplished this by carefully removing the silicone compound using a gum brush. This was a laborious process, but it allowed her to see the device’s innards. With this knowledge, she could recreate the logic modules on a breadboard.

[Fran]‘s work on the LVDC has been very interesting. It began with a look at the PCB, followed by an x-ray analysis. Next up was a three part series of the teardown. With each part is a detailed video on the progress.

While this is the end of [Fran]‘s work on the project, she will be handing off the LVDC hardware to another engineer to continue the analysis. We’re looking forward to seeing what comes out of this continued research.

Building a rocket to launch your project into space


At Hackaday, we’re familiar with projects that say they’re exploring space. Most of the time, these are high altitude balloons that ascend up to 100,000 feet. Sure, this is very, very high, but it’s only about 1/3rd of the way to lower limit of what can be called space at 100 km or 62 miles. Now, we’re seeing the first steps towards embedding Arduinos, cameras, and other goodies into the celestial spheres with the NE-1 Rocket, a project by [Jonathan McCabe] in Madison, Wisconsin.

The goal of the NE-1 rocket is to launch a 5kg payload into a suborbital trajectory to a height of 120 kilometers. From there, the payload – be it an electronic, biological, or simple imaging experiment – will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before falling back to Earth under a parachute.

Getting into space without the help of a government space agency has been done a few times before, mostly with solid-fuel rockets. [Jonathan]‘s system uses a liquid-fueled engine, fed with nitrous oxide as the oxidizer and a secret self-pressurizing liquid fuel. These are fed into an engine that uses a ‘cold wall vortex’ to cool the engine instead circulating fuel around the combustion chamber as in traditional engines.

[Jonathan] has already done a few static tests with a half-scale engine, and he already has a lot of the very hard-to-source components in his lab. It’s a promising project. It falls right in line with the ‘Hackaday Space Program’ idea we’ve been kicking around, and we’d be more than happy to see this project get off the ground

Observe a satellite’s Morse Code message today!


If you live in the Eastern portion of the United States and the skies are clear you can see a student built satellite flashing LEDs in Morse Code today. But don’t worry. If you it’s cloudy or if you live elsewhere there are several other opportunities to see it in the coming days.

This is the Niwaka Fitsat-1. It was developed by students at the [Fukuoka Institute of Technology] and deployed from the International Space Station on October 4th. Included in the payload is an array of LEDs seen in the image above. On a set schedule these are used to flash a Morse Code message for two minutes at a time. That is what’s shown in the image on the upper right.

You can look up information on seeing Fitsat-1 in your own area using this webpage. All of the observation windows in our area require a pair of binoculars or better. We’re not sure if there is any case in which this can be seen by the naked eye.

[Thanks SWHarden and KomradBob]

Saving the ISS by hacking a toothbrush


We absolutely love these stories of hacker ingenuity saving peoples lives. In this case, it was aboard the ISS, and the item being hacked was a toothbrush.

The story is as follows. Some equipment failed, as space junk tends to do, and the astronauts found themselves needing to do some repairs. Upon inspection, they couldn’t remove some modules due to an accumulation of “space dust” around some bolts.  This was especially troubling as the unit in question was something that was supposed to route power from some of the solar arrays to the ISS. Even more troubling is that another unit failed while they were assessing the situation.

Realizing they had to act fast so as not to lose too much power to function, they cobbled together some tools to allow them to clean out the access ports and remove the units for repair. A task that sounds like an easy solution here on earth proved to be life threatening in space. Eventually though, their makeshift tools came to the rescue and they were able to repair and restore power.

Only you can kick a child’s balls into space

We had a lot of fun with that title. Of course when you’re talking about launching a thousand ping pong balls into space there’s no end to the puns which can be made. But this is actually a fantastic initiative to get people of all ages excited about science and near-space experiments. [John Powell] offers school children the opportunity to send an experiment into space. He’s Kickstarting the next launch, which is scheduled to take place in September. This way each entrant can fly their project for free, then get the results and a certificate back once the weather-balloon-based hardware is recovered.

There is one size restriction for the program. Each experiment must fit inside of a ping pong ball. But you’ll be surprised what can be accomplished. [John] reports that the most simple, yet interesting project is to place a small marshmallow inside the ball. As it rises through the atmosphere it will grow to fill the entire ball, then be freeze-dried by the the extreme temperatures. Some are not so low-tech. There’s an image of a tiny PCB holding a DS1337 and some sensors. It’s an atmospheric data logger that will provide plenty of information to analyze upon its return.

[via Hacked Gadgets]

Spend your weekend contributing to the exploration of space

Earlier today we posted a link to a tournament NASA is holding. NASA is trying to crowdsource the organization of terabytes of data collected from missions all over the solar system. A few Hackaday readers wrote in (thanks [grbgout] and all the others) to tell us there is an International Space Apps Challenge going on this weekend to crowdsourse solutions to the problems of space flight.

The challenge is the product of a partnership between NASA, the National Science Foundation, the UK  and Japanese Space Agencies and a host of other organizations like GitHub, Yahoo Developer Network, and even a few hackerspaces. The idea behind the challenge is simple: spend a weekend solving software, hardware, and science challenges to improve the state of space sciences.

There are a lot of interesting projects like programming an interface to a NASA mission simulator, figure out how to print 3D objects in space, and even develop the hardware and software for an underwater ROV.

Aside from the fancy software and hardware challenges, there are also some very interesting data visualization problems, like clearly explaining the fact that space is mostly empty. If you can figure out how to tell people they aren’t the center of the Universe, take a shot at it – there’s probably a Nobel in Literature in it for you.

Right now there are dozens of locations on all seven continents and in Low Earth Orbit (McMurdo Station in Antartica and the ISS) that will have people contributing to these projects. Of course you’re free to work out of the home and help scientists, engineers, and researchers reach to the stars.